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Saints of Carmel

Through the centuries the Order of Carmel has been blessed with many saintly sons and daughters. Best known to us are those whose writings on the mystical life continue to guide and teach people in all walks of life today. Saint Teresa, whose Life and Interior Castle tell the story of her journey to God and her way of prayer, was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1976.

Saint John of the Cross, twenty-seven years younger than St. Teresa, but her equal in the depth of his union with God, is considered by many to be the greatest poet of the Spanish language. His major works, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love are commentaries on his poems, and were written, he said, "for those who desire to reach union with God quickly." For many, they provide a sure and certain path to God through the darkness and trials of this life.

It was in France at the end of the nineteenth century that there lived the Carmelite whom Pope Pius XI hailed as "the greatest saint of modern times." She is Saint Therese of Lisieux, known to the world as "the Little Flower." Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, reveals her life as an all-embracing response to God's merciful love. It is a way of love open to all "little ones", to every ordinary person. Saint Therese was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

Closest to our own time is Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Poland in 1891, she studied phenomenology with Edmund Husserl and became a noted philosopher, scholar and lecturer in prewar Germany. After reading the Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Edith converted to Catholicism on New Year's Day, 1922. During the next ten years Edith became well known in Catholic Germany as a teacher and speaker, particularly on topics concerning the place of women in the modern world. By 1933 those of Jewish background were forbidden to teach in Germany, and Edith fulfilled her long held desire by entering the Cologne Carmel. Because of increasing Nazi repression of the Jews and her fear that her presence in the Carmel would bring reprisal on the Sisters, Edith decided to seek refuge in the Carmel of Echt, Holland at the end of 1938. After the Nazi occupation of Holland, however, she was arrested in 1942 in reprisal for a pastoral letter written by the Dutch bishops against genocide. She died in Auschwitz in August, 1942. To the end of her life, Edith felt a deep identification with her suffering Jewish brothers and sisters. When the SS men appeared at the Carmel to arrest Edith and her sister, Rosa, she said, "Come, Rosa, we are going for our people." Her life and death give witness that love conquers hate and evil, and that the Cross is the symbol of that triumph. Saint Teresa Benedicta was canonized in 1998.

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